Tag Archives: gluten free

Banana Nirvana: Thai Style Banana Cake

27 Jan
A slice of Thai-style Banana Cake

Banana Nirvana: Thai-style Banana Cake

“To satisfy the human tastes and prejudices there is probably a daily expenditure of two billion woman-hours in the kitchens and dining rooms of the world… men who wax flowery and effusive about the excellence of Mother’s cooking should remember that her reputation was made while they were hungry boys” C. C. Furnas, in Man, Bread and Destiny ©1937

I go through phases where the thought of spending one more second in the kitchen is about as appealing as camel hair underwear.  I loathe loading and unloading the dishwasher for the second time, and my feet grow weary of tracing and retracing the same figure eight between the stove and sink and counter.  But I’m often forced into the kitchen by the demands of my own body, of my children’s bodies, and by my own ethical concerns.  Three beautifully rotting bananas were donated to me last week and I realized that if I didn’t do something with them soon, they would be wasted.  I know that you can freeze bananas, even black ones, and they will remain usable.  However, experience has taught me that if I hide them in the freezer, I’ll never get around to using them.

I make a more than decent banana bread, and banana pudding, although delicious, doesn’t work all that well with rotten bananas, so I decided to go out on a limb and try something new.  I started thinking about the nature of bananas, their tropical origins, and googled around until I saw that many Thai recipes involve bananas. Go figure. Darlene Schmidt over at About.com has a recipe for something she calls Thai-style Banana Cake.  It looked like a good place to start, but I had three bananas instead of two, so I’ve changed the recipe to my liking.  This is my version of a Thai-style banana cake, which I’ve decided to call Banana Nípphaan, or Banana Nirvana. My kids and the Hot Boyfriend said it was excellent.  The Postmodern Daughter liked it most of all and that that it was “puddingy,” which is the postmodern way to say that I finally made a cake that was moist instead of corrugated cardboard.

Banana Nirvana

Banana Nirvana

The Batter:

  • 1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)
  • 2/3 cup baker’s sugar (fine grain)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 can of coconut milk (use the full-fat kind…if you’re going to eat cake, eat good cake)
  • 1 and 1/2 mashed bananas (the blacker the better)
  • 2 cups sweet rice flour
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
  1. Cream the butter and sugar, mash the bananas, beat the eggs, and combine all liquid ingredients.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients and fold in the wet ingredients.
  3. Preheat oven to 350ºF
  4. Pour the batter into a 9 inch cake pan that has been greased and floured.

The Sauce:

  • 1 and 1/2 mashed bananas
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Combine these ingredients and pour over the cake batter before baking the cake.  The sauce will form a sort of marbling in the batter.
  2. Bake for approximately one hour or until the center is no longer liquid, but more like a jello or pudding consistency.
  3. Eat the cake and thank your lucky stars that you can eat something like this, while people like me can only look at it with something that resembles violent lust.

How to Fatten Hansel in Order to Eat Him for Winter Solstice

20 Dec

Woodsmoke rising in the winter sun.

Solstice is the cul du sac of winter, a place where the disappearing sun goes to turn around and return home.  Winter solstice is a psychological balm for those of us living in Alaska. It marks the end of loss.  Tomorrow we will begin to gain daylight, slowly at first, but by late March the Great Hibernation will be over.

However, I was disappointed this morning by -30°F.  Again. I have no alternative but to treat these months as Festival months.  I will celebrate Solstice, Christmas, and New Years with a Mardi Gras-like fervor.  I will hang lights, decorate my table, and feast like the Bacchanals. Mircea Eliade, in The Sacred and the Profane, explains that festivals are a way of maintaining our connection to the Divine:

“In imitating the exemplary acts of a god or of a mythical hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time.” Mircea Eliade

Last night, I realized that I had a jar of artichoke hearts in need of eating.  I opened them a few weeks ago and realized that they were a good choice for a dark winter’s night… they are in season in spring and last sometimes into the fall.  I decided to make a meal that represents my faith in the return of spring.  But what to pair them with? Well, in honor of my desire to remain a “Spring Chicken,” I saw chicken as a hopeful choice.

I will give you the recipe on the one condition that you never tell the Hot Boyfriend what’s in it. He asked me if I was trying to “fatten him up” and we joked about the Witch’s desire to consume youth (the Hot Boyfriend is considerably younger than I) in “Hansel and Gretel”. He wondered if I was going to actually put a half a stick of butter in the sauce (the remaining half was lying conspicuously on the counter) and I said “No way!”  I hadn’t yet gotten the heavy whipping cream out of the fridge.  I thought, as I stirred the thickening sauce, that if I were going to fatten him and eat him for my Solstice meal, this would be a good dish on which to do so.  I mused on humanity’s love of fatted animals: Kobe beef, foie gras, pork belly, the Fatted Calf of the Old Testament. And I mused on the pleasure of feeding men, specifically the man in my kitchen.  Once he begins training hard again in the spring, I won’t resort to such underhanded methods of pleasure, but for now you must remain complicit in my crimes if you want the recipe.

"Hansel, stretch out thy finger that I may feel if thou wilt soon be fat."

Fatted Hansel Chicken: or Braised Chicken Tenderloin with Asparagus and Mushroom Sauce

  • 1/2 cup shredded Manchego cheese
  • 1 cup diced mushrooms (shiitake and crimini)
  • 1 cup artichoke hearts (roughly chopped)
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • white pepper
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • Sacrificial Virgin Olive Oil
  • salt, seasoning
  • 8-10 pieces of chicken tenderloin

In a saucepan, on medium head, add the butter, mushrooms, white pepper, and garlic.  When the mushrooms and garlic begin to smell really good, add the cream, half & half, artichokes, and cheese.  Cover and let this simmer while you prepare the chicken.

Pat the chicken tenderloins dry and dust them with seasoning (I used a rosemary, garlic, pepper blend). In a large oven-proof skillet on high heat, add the olive oil.  Sear the outside of the chicken on both sides (this shouldn’t take long for small tenderloins). Finish the chicken in a 400° oven.

Serve it forth to Hansel.  Feel his finger to see if he is fat.

Cabin Curry: How to Avoid the Outhouse at -25F.

19 Dec

The outhouse at the Kitchen Vixen's cabin.

Thai Curry, Round 2: Last night I visited my friend, a well known (but paradoxically private) poet who will henceforth be known as the Kitchen Vixen.  The Vixen lives, like many people in Fairbanks, in a cabin with no running water and an outhouse.  I love cooking with her in the cabin because, although there is no water, there is a phenomenal collection of cookbooks, old issues of Gastronomica, and plenty of Le Creuset cookware.  I brought over some of my booty from the Asian Market in the hopes that I could make another Thai curry, and that, this time, it would not send my American intestinal tract to the outhouse.  Especially since it was -25°F last night.

Yellow curry in a delightful bowl from the Tanana Valley Farmer's Market.

Here’s the recipe we managed to throw together:

Yellow Thai Curry with White Shrimp and Green Beans

  • 15-20 peeled, raw white shrimp
  • 1 small, finely julienned ginger root
  • 3-4 keffir lime leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 large handful of fresh green beans, ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large lobe of shallot, julienned
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp of yellow curry paste (I used Mae Ploy brand)
  • 1/4 cup peanut oil
  • 1 tbsp Marukan seasoned gourmet rice vinegar

1. Get the peanut oil extremely hot (peanut oil is preferred both for taste and because it has a high smoking temperature, which means you can get it super hot before it begins to smoke and subsequently catches your cabin on fire).

Slightly more than caramelized? Maybe.

2. Add vegetable ingredients except for a smidge of the ginger and 1 or 2 of the lime leaves.  Turn the heat down when the ingredients begin to caramelize.

3. Add 1/2 the coconut milk, curry paste, and the peeled shrimp.

4. Let it simmer while you throw another log on the fire.

Chop wood. Drink wine.

5. Add the rest of the coconut milk, ginger, and lime leaves.

6.  Serve over rice, or, if you forgot to bring the rice (like I did) eat it as is.





Caveats: First of all, let me say that this recipe is good, but I’m not going to claim it’s genius. I have a lot to learn about the proportions and cooking order of Thai ingredients.  Also, I’m the kind of cook who thinks cooking from recipes is The Man trying to stifle my creativity; therefore, I have to learn the hard way sometimes.  And that often means making food that can be improved upon. By all means, if you have suggestions for this recipe, fire away.

In other news: It turns out the Hot Boyfriend couldn’t get home for Christmas, which means I will have company for Christmas.  He’s hoping I will cook his grandmother’s  Ham Balls, which I will share with you so long as I don’t utterly destroy a cherished family meal because I refuse to follow directions.

A Lusty Salad of White Shrimp, Campari Tomatoes, and Ginger

16 Nov

So good it will make you want to take your clothes off...

This guy I know, henceforth known as The Hot Boyfriend, is an absolute animal, tearing into a plate of  my Gruyere scalloped potatoes the same way he tears off my clothes…with lusty enthusiasm. He’s a poet and an ultra runner (no small feat in Fairbanks, Alaska) who comes to my table with seductive words and a ravenous appetite.  But when I first met him, food was merely a utilitarian task to be undertaken as a matter of necessity.  Pleasure was irrelevant; he thought his body a machine and food merely its fuel.  I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had disabusing him of that notion.  This morning, while lying in bed, he said to me “Food, sex, and poetry” and, forming the fingers of both hands into a triangle, “This is my Holy Trinity, my triangle of pleasure. That’s where life is, right in the middle.”

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote one of the finest treatises on food and its intrinsic connection to all sensual pleasures.  Of course, he also helped create the notion that for women, a love of fine cuisine is merely a sublimation for their sexual appetites, which must be denied.  Well, Mr Savarin, I for one do not deny my sexual appetite and the preparing of and consuming of tasty fare is a necessary complement to sexual pleasure, not  a replacement for it.

“The limits of pleasures are as yet neither known nor fixed, and we have no idea what degree of bodily bliss we are capable of attaining.” -Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1826)

This is what I shall make my ravenous lover as a midnight snack, after our clothes have been replaced, the nighstand righted, and my underwear removed from the ceiling fan:

A Lusty Salad of Ginger, Campari Tomato and White Shrimp

mix, into a beautiful bowl, the following:

equal portions (about the size of the cork in that bottle of wine you just drank) of finely julienned fresh ginger root, Vidalia sweet onion, and shallots.

6 lusty Campari tomatoes (cut into eighths)

25-30 peeled, lightly sauteed, white shrimp

1/2 cup white balsamic fig infused vinegar

2 tbsp truffle infused oil

garlic/rosemary pepper to taste

fresh herbs (oregano, cilantro, or parsley)


The truffle infused oil…the smell is unique.  Supposedly there is good truffle hunting ground in and around Fairbanks.  I seem to recall there was even a newspaper article about it a few years ago.  However, internet searches turn up nil and I’m starting to believe there is a Truffle Cabal afoot.  This oil smells faintly of sex, some damp and dark crook of a knee or a salt crusted neck after a long run.

The fig infused vinegar, a lovely flavor.  We don’t get figs in Fairbanks.  I had fresh figs in Anchorage once, but here we have none.

Use raw, white shrimp.  You want the oceany flesh of these little crustaceans to remain tender.  If you don’t have time to let this salad marinate and mellow in the fridge, you can throw the onions, shallots, and ginger in the pan with the shrimp to cut the bite a bit.

Butterscotch Syrup: Seals up Old Wounds

13 Nov

Butterscotch Syrup for French Toast

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tbsp real vanilla

1/4 cup water

1/4 stick of butter

1/4 cup cream or half & half

I usually throw these all into a cold pan together, slowly bringing up the heat and whisking until it comes to a boil.

This morning I may have added the water and sugar first, then turned down the heat, and later added the butter then the cream.  I remember being worried that the cream would get weird, but it didn’t.  The amounts listed above are approximate.  I’m not great with measuring, though I’m trying to pay more attention in order to communicate my process. I was cooking bacon and french toast while the syrup was going, so I’m not sure exactly what came first.

The Power of Reconciliation

The cookbook editor Judith Jones, in a recent interview said “Writers who really write for home cooks are very often displaced people who are in search of their past; they want to recover it to celebrate it and share it with you and me.”  Indeed, every time I make homemade syrup I recall my home, my childhood, my past.  Locked away in my arctic prison, I keep the fine thread taught which knits me still to the tapestry of my family every time I recreate my mother’s recipes in my own way.

I only recently began making homemade syrup for pancakes and french toast.  Real maple syrup is lovely but pricey.  My mother made homemade syrup when I was a kid.  My most intense gustatory memories of her attempts are of a thinned molasses on top of banana crepes.  The flavor was pretty intense for an adolescent palette and I don’t recall being that crazy about it.  My other memory is of a rather watery brown sugar syrup.  There were complaints from her offspring… most of them coming from me rather than my two sisters, who were much younger and less inclined to see anything other than an exciting plate of pancakes and syrup.  For me, however, the syrup was symbolic of our status on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.   I don’t know whether my mom said out loud “we can’t afford the store bought stuff” but that was certainly the conclusion I drew.  This interpretation along with my disdain for generic brands and homemade anything led to a souring of my fondness for pancakes, especially lean ones cooked in a dry pan.

My mother's homemade brown sugar syrup.

I wonder sometimes about the sea change in our collective perceptions of “store bought” versus “homemade”.  As an adolescent, many of my more economically stable friends had pantries stocked full of name brand goods–crinkly Little Debbie Snack Cakes, stout cans of Dole fruit, snappy Green Giant vegetables, lovely little magenta cartons of Juicy Juice–I saw their refrigerators and cabinets as colorful symbols of their families’ success.  When I opened the cupboards at home there was a paltry selection of black and white labeled foodstuffs and Kroger brand cans.  The aesthetic aridity of the labels seemed so indicative of our financial woes.  Nevermind that the vegetables in the crisper or the leftovers from the week before had begun to grow their grey-green mold…my single mother’s full time job and full-time college student status didn’t allow for frequent household upkeep.  The symbolism of our kitchen was interpreted by Yours Truly, the young critic, as signifying poverty.  When my mother would bring home bags of Chik-fil-A, I felt wealthy.  Dole brand ketchup, rather than the Kroger brand, was a kind of Dow Jones Childhood Average. Did everyone in the eighties interpret Store Bought this way?  I don’t know.

But so much has changed in the intervening years.  I’ve had my own children and with that I’ve come to understand my mother and our kitchen in a different way.  My interpretation of her as the Mother archetype and my “reading” of our foodways is much kinder.  And probably much more truthful.  She didn’t cook full meals more than once or twice a week I think, but when she did cook, meals were about the company you kept at the table.  Food was for sharing.  A perpetual Thanksgiving.  Their were often strangers at the table.  Artist friends of hers, writers, ministers, old friends, family from out of town.  I learned the fine art of conversation at my mother’s table, I honed my argumentative skills and was treated as a fellow intellectual even when I’m sure my additions to the topic at hand were ludicrous.  I saw the healthy consumption of wine in relatively moderate proportions, I learned how to set an eclectic table with all of the mismatched tableware we owned.  She taught me what kind of music goes well with dining, how to find flowers for cheap and generally how to make an art of eating.

Pancakes and homemade syrup must have been rare moments in a perpetual struggle to survive as a single mother with three daughters.  She completed her undergraduate and received her diploma the same year I graduated from high school. And really, if I really think about it, the flavors were great; it was my interpretation of the food as a symbol that was flawed.  What I’m thankful for now is not only the culinary education I received at her knee but also for the largely unprocessed diet I consumed.  Unprocessed and home cooked meals are now a different kind of economic indicator.  Eating fresh food can be expensive especially when time is the kind of commodity it is in my life as I’m sure it was in my mother’s.   All told, what was most complicated in my life as an adolescent is now the most simple.  In making my own breakfast syrup, a few old wounds are sealed up. Healed.

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